The muscles of the upper body; specifically, the back and chest, serve as core stabilizers during movement and activity; stabilizing a rider’s movement allowing extenders, such as legs and arms, to function more powerfully and with control. By strengthening these muscles, you’ll begin to develop greater, overall strength without overworking the arms and neck. Additionally, strengthening these muscles will improve rider performance by reducing the chance of developing muscle imbalances and improve rider posture & stamina.
Before exercising any muscles of the upper body, begin with some gentle stretches to help loosen the muscles, mainly those of the chest, to allow for greater range of motion. Since stress is often carried in the lower back and trapezius, which limits movement and increase your chance of injury, starting with stretching is very important.
Some simple stretches include:
Chest/ arm stretch:
Stand a few feet away from a wall, with feet narrow and elbow bent. Begin by pressing the palm and elbow of that same arm into the wall as you gently twist your body and hips in the opposite direction. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute and switch arms.
Begin by lying on the floor with knees bent; gently lift your shoulders, bringing them closer to your ears and back down, alternating breaths simultaneously. Continue by lifting shoulders to your ears and then back, down and forward, in a circle like motion. To advance, lay on a foam roller on the floor, wrapping your shoulder blades around the foam roller.
Lie on the floor with knees pulled in and bent toward your chest. Keeping hips and lower back pressed into the floor, gently bring your knees to the left and then to the right, stretching the lower back. As you sway back and forth, keep your abdominal muscles tight, pulling your belly button closer to your spine and alternating breaths.
After completing the above stretches, give these exercise motions a shot. They are easy enough to do at home or at the barn!
Pro tip: Try these anywhere by using a resistance band rather than relying on gym equipment.
Begin seated with feet extended away from the body and resistance band extended around your feet & each hand holding on to one side of the band. Sitting up tall, with core engaged, pull both sides of the band back towards your body, bending elbows and squeezing the shoulder blades. Then slowly release back to start. Continue with 3 sets of 12.
Chest Press on the Exercise Ball
Pro tip: The best at-home version of a row can be done on an exercise ball.
Begin by lying on an exercise ball, facing the ceiling, with small weights in hand and feet pressed into the floor. A central focus for a row is using the core for stability; you can do this by pulling your navel deep in towards your spine. When you feel that your core is contracted, begin pressing the weights towards the ceiling in unison and slowly lower the weights back towards your body with control.
Concentrate on squeezing your shoulder blades towards each other as you lower the weights. This will allow your press to exercise upper back muscles as well as those of the chest and core.
Begin by using the same resistance band that was used in the previous exercise. Stand with knees slightly bent and chest slightly leaning towards the floor. Although the body is leaning forward, the head, neck and tailbone should all be in one straight line. Holding the ends of the band with each hand, lift arms out to the sides, up to shoulder level, squeezing shoulder blades together and bring back to start. Keep the elbows slightly bent and only lift to shoulders.
As these exercises become easier, try increasing the weight of either your hand weights and/or resistance band!
What are your favorite work our regimens for upper body strength? Tell us in the comments below!